Reflections on Japan's Transformation in a Digital Age

Japanese society is the bleeding edge of cyber culture, but at what cost?

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Are technology, economic gloom, waning political might and an aging population causing the Japanese to distance themselves from humanity? Observers are pondering changes in Japan as the country deeply embraces digital culture. Some celebrate the simplification of the Japanese language due to cell phones and blogs, while others marvel at new forms of art. Yet in any reflection on Japan's transformation, there's the inevitable question: is it healthy for a society to seek "digital escape" from reality's woes? A survey of recent reflections on the island nation's changes:

  • Time to Re-Open Japan Emily Parker hones in on the potential results "otaku"could yield for Japan's future. Parker notes that people have begun using and recongnizing more kanji now that there's no need to write every stroke of the Chinese characters from memory. At the same time, the terse nature of SMS communication helps make Japanese become less intimidating, opening it up to a wider range of people to enjoy. Most practical, though, digital technology could save Japan from itself: "Japan, a rapidly aging society, may well have to face an influx of immigration in the not too distant future. A more accessible language could accelerate the country's process of internationalization."
  • It's Natural For a Fallen Giant Roger Cohen lists four reasons why Japan is leading "humanity's rush into isolating forms of electronic obsession": wealth, postmodernism, conformism and despair. Cohen says Japan finds itself in a state of emotional malaise due to an uncertain economic future and living in the shadow of China on the world stage. Despite this, Japan remains rich and its society continues to be incredibly deferential and uniform. Given these conditions, it's perfectly understandable to see "how the urge to escape from this homogeneity could be strong." However, Cohen expresses the importance of human interaction and highlights that Japan should not turn a deaf ear to its own prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, who has called for a new era or "Yuai," or fraternity.
  • It's a Simple Escape In an older profile of cell-phone novelists, The New Yorker's Dana Goodyear notes how the new genre is "revolutionary, opening the closed ranks of the literary world to anyone who owns a mobile phone." Goodyear goes onto interview, Kiki, a famous cell-phone novelist, who praises the modern media over her country's oldest novel, "The Tale of Genji." The budding digital revolutionary recalls the pain involved in reading the ancient romance novel and contrasts it with the deep connection she felt with the first cell-phone novel she ever read:
"I asked Kiki whether she had read 'The Tale of Genji.' 'The problem is the language is so difficult,' she said. 'There are so many characters.' Then she remembered a book she'd read that was a 'super-old one, an ancient one!' She said, 'I read it four years ago. Before that, I didn't read books of any kind, but it was very easy to read, very contemporary, very close to my life.' She told me that the title was 'Deep Love'
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